It’s my next to last week at St. Andrews, which makes me all sorts of sad. They really are a delightful congregation. The brought me peaches after I preached my stewardship sermon on the spiritual benefits of random gifts of fruit. They started a signup so my college students could come to their annual rummage sale. When it is time to sound-check the lectern microphone, the lectors imitate the Voice of God.
I hope they let me come back to visit.
August 19, 2012
Ordinary Time, Proper 15
John 6: 51-58
When I was in college, I worked at a gas station/ convenience store/deli, a renowned Pennsylvania institution known as Wawa, whenever I was living at home. ( Sadly, they do not exist this far west. So think of something like Circle K, only with a deli component. ) I mostly worked the overnight shift– 11pm to 7am. It was a blast. I sliced the freshly made bread in the deli, I restocked the sandwich toppings, all the lettuce, and onions and tomatoes. I swept the floor. I made sure no one made off with free gas at 3am, and I got 50cents extra an hour for hazard pay!
And the people who came in were the best assortment of characters you’d ever want to know.
The Wawa I worked in was located at an exit of the turnpike, so by midnight or so, the only customers I ever got were truckers off the highway. They came in a steady stream, all night long. And all night long, they wanted coffee. Coffee and a doughnut. Or coffee and a pastry, or a bagel or something. But coffee! They really wanted coffee. And if there was no coffee, freshly made and with plenty of caffeine, then there were going to be some mighty displeased truckers picketing my store at 4am. These were not quiet men, and they were pretty vocal in their opinions. I heard about it when the price of a large coffee jumped by three cents.
But I realized, pretty soon after starting the overnight shift, that mostly what those overnight customers wanted, more than coffee, was someone else to talk to. Just to see another person! To wander around at 3am can be a lonely experience, especially if you spend your life doing it. It’s isolating.
So that was part of my job, as I came to see it. To be the hospitable person who gave them enough so they could get to where they were going. I got to man the way station on the journey. I got to hand them coffee.
Coffee, usually so foundational and mundane that it gets overlooked, suddenly became much more than coffee to me. It started out as this boring piece of every day life, a thing we take for granted, and suddenly became a way to give hope, and blessing even to other people. Gas station Coffee, this thing that you can get for 85 cents, transformed into something more!
Last week, I talked about John’s gospel being like a commentary on the life of Jesus. The writer of John assumes that his audience knows the basics of the Jesus story, so he lays a solid, and occasionally impenetrable layer of theology on top– Christianity 2.0. What it all Means! And this week he’s doing it again. The writer of John doesn’t really include the story of how the First Eucharist happens. He has the story of the last supper. But if you flip back there and check, what you’ll find is that Jesus washes the disciples feet, and talks to them for quite a while, and eats dinner and hangs out. He doesn’t bless and distribute the bread and wine, and tell his friends that it’s his body and blood, like in the other gospels. The 4th gospel writer figures you know that story, it’s been done, 1st century t-shirts received–
instead, what the 4th gospel writer has given us is this long section of Jesus talking about being the bread of life. Not the how of the Eucharist– the why of the Eucharist.
Jesus says, I am the living bread that came down from heaven…and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. And the crowd said, Huh?
For an observant Jewish society, this was really upsetting. Aside from the fact that an observant Jewish society knew never ever to consume blood, the inner core of what he is getting at is downright shocking.
There are a lot of claims that Jesus makes, and that we Christians make about Jesus that everyone can nod along with. Jesus loves everyone, God is love, Jesus says love your neighbor as yourselves, stuff like that. Hard work to be sure, but dig hard enough, phrase it the right way, and most folks will agree with it to some extent.
But what Jesus is saying right here makes a claim that jumps way beyond all that stuff. What Jesus says right here is that God cares enough about the daily, tiny, material, flesh and blood details of creation to participate in them. God cares enough about the physical, material creation to participate in it, even in the most trivial, the dirtiest, parts. The parts we wouldn’t look twice at, or care about. God cares that much about the creation God made.
This is a mind blowing thing to say. It’s easier, somehow, to picture a big, huge, far off, distant God up in the sky, or high atop a mountain, being all knowing and untouchable and above all this stuff, all the life we deal with. God’s off winding up the universe like a clockmaker, or dispensing vague advice. But removed from us. Far off! Above! Beyond!
But not so, insists Jesus. God is come so close. So close as bread that you eat every day, with every meal. That you depend on to live, to get by. That you see so often, depend on so much that you don’t even think about it. God is in these very things! Not distant, and not removed from our earthly existence, but right in the very physical heart of it. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
That’s what we reenact every week in the Eucharist. God come to us in ordinary, material things. Not lofty, above us, but here. In creation. In the things so ordinary and mundane we depend on them for our survival. The creator of the cosmos in a piece of bread.
God finds something this creation so valuable, so worth saving, that we are called to learn to see it in the same way. We, who follow Jesus, are called to learn to look for divine fingerprints in all of creation, too. To see everything as an opportunity for blessing and grace. A rock or a tumbleweed. A song on the radio and a cup of coffee at 3am. We are called to see the spark of God’s love in all creation. The image of God in everyone we meet.
Because if we look hard enough, and we learn to see God even in these little details of our lives, and in the faces of our neighbors, then we can learn to love and serve the world as Jesus does. Because when we learn to see the light of God shining in all the creation around us, that’s when the light of God’s love begins to shine the brightest out of us. And only then, with God’s help, can we transform the face of the world.
So short and oh! so sweet. Thank you. Hope it is not going to be the end of your writings.
Tumbleweeds! You did it! You win!
Seeing the title of this post I immediately thought of “my” truckers! I too, worked night shift at a truck stop just off the highway and learned very shortly after I began working there that my job was more than selling lottery tickets and making coffee. My job was to be a smile.
Night shift at the L.L.Bean Retail Store–same, same, sacred ministry every shift